EVERETT — The U.S. Capitol is a long way from Snohomish. And, some might fear, even farther from God.
But that’s not how the Rev. Patrick Conroy sees it.
For the past five and a half years, the Roman Catholic priest has served as the Chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives. The 1968 Snohomish High School grad opens each day’s sitting in the House with a prayer.
“Politics does not presume to be morally right or wrong,” Conroy said during a recent interview. “When people start believing that that is the standard of good or bad politics, then they’re really going to be frustrated.”
Conroy arrived to serve Congress in 2011 as the tea party movement was making things uncomfortable for Democrats and establishment Republicans alike. In his eyes, things are much less rancorous now than they were then.
“It was obvious to me that the House was polarized,” Conroy said during an interview earlier this month. “I did not see Democrats talking to Republicans on the House floor. We are a long way from that.”
That’s not to say things are always smooth in these politically divided times following the election of President Donald Trump. Conroy presided over a rare moment of quiet and calm after Trump was sworn in as the nation’s 45th president. That came when he delivered the benediction for Trump’s inaugural luncheon.
“Bless as well all those who are in place to exercise power in our nation,” he said. “Save them from seeking those things eschewed by Solomon — long life, riches for self and the lives of enemies — and impel them to seek the gift of discernment, so as to understand justice.”
Standing by solemnly were the president, first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence. Conroy shook hands with Trump and Pence after the blessing.
Born in Everett in 1950, Conroy went as a boy to live with his mother in Arlington, Virginia, following his parents’ divorce, according to a biography posted on his official website. He returned to Snohomish County during his sophomore year of high school. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College and earned a law degree from Gonzaga University before entering the Jesuit order. He was ordained a priest in Seattle in 1983.
Early in his career, Conroy provided legal help to the Colville Tribes and to refugees fleeing the civil war in El Salvador. Before arriving in Washington, D.C., he worked for several years at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon.
Since leaving the Northwest, he’s made return trips, including a 2013 visit for his 45th high school reunion.
In a recent video for America Magazine, a national weekly journal published by the Jesuits, Conroy mused about the challenges he faces straddling the worlds of politics and faith.
“How do you follow Jesus of Nazareth in the contentious atmosphere of politics?” he asked. “Hopefully you do it with great charity and great wisdom and great sincerity, while respecting every voice you hear. Impossible? Well, that’s why I’m praying.”